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Northland Utilities issues full-page ads, 'not for sale'

Northland Utilities representatives have taken out full-page ads in newspapers across the Northwest Territories, fighting back against what they believe is a territorial government attempt to 'expropriate' the company.

Power distributor believes government is attempting to 'expropriate', NTPC to bid on Hay River contract

This full-page ad was taken out in newspapers across the territory by Northland Utilities, asking the territorial government to 'stop the waste.'

A long-time power distributor in the territory says it has been shut out of discussions about the Northwest Territories' electrical system, so it's taking its message directly to the people.

Northland Utilities has been operating in the Northwest Territories for over 60 years. It buys power from the Northwest Territories Power Corporation and distributes it to homes and businesses in Yellowknife, Hay River, N'Dilo, Trout Lake, Kakisa, Fort Providence, Wekweti and Enterprise.

This week, Northland ran full-page ads in newspapers across the N.W.T., arguing against what it believes is a looming attempt by the government to expropriate the company. 

Yellowknife Centre MLA Robert Hawkins speaks in the Northwest Territories legislative assembly in 2014. Hawkins says 'there's a lobbyist knocking on doors of people here trying to put pressure on the system to change its mind.' (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)

"It's our belief that it's distorted toward expropriation, said Doug Tenney, Northland's vice president of northern development. "And, in fact, we've seen the minister talk about Hay River's franchise [contracts to provide power] is due in 2016, Yellowknife's is due, he thought, in 2017. So we believe the move has really started for the expropriation of Northlands." 

Earlier this month, territorial Finance Minister Michael Miltenberger asked how many energy distributors a territory of 42,000 people needs, and in December, the town of Hay River announced they wouldn't renew Northland's power distribution agreement, which they've held since 1951.

A request for proposals for the town's power franchise was issued yesterday. Hay River's mayor, Andrew Cassidy, says he fully expects Northland to make a bid.

'Not for sale'

Tenney was adamant in responding to a potential government purchase, saying: "Northland Utilities is not for sale." 

Courts have set a formula for figuring out how much governments must pay for companies that don't want to sell, he added. Using that formula, Tenney says Northland has come up with a price for its business: $180 million.

The ad was a last resort, says Tenney, because the government excluded the company from its discussions.

"Every time they issue a report — and we know right now cabinet has commissioned another report on energy structure in the Northwest Territories — we wanted to be a part of that, to influence the outcomes," he said. "We've got an opinion on some of the things we think should happen. 

"But not only have they said they don't require our opinion, they don't want our opinion." 

In the ads, Northland says a better way of lowering power rates in the territory would be to merge their operations with the Northwest Territories Power Corporation.

The attempt to court public opinion is not confined to newspaper ads, according to Robert Hawkins, MLA for Yellowknife Centre.

"I can tell you right now, I know there's a lobbyist knocking on doors of people here trying to put pressure on the system to change its mind," he said.

The lobbying has had an effect, added Hawkins: MLAs who once believed a government takeover of Northland would result in lower rates have softened their stance, he says.

NTPC to bid on Hay River contract

Yesterday, Tenney said Northland is at a disadvantage when it comes to staying on as Hay River's power distributor, a fear that was likely not assuaged by a territorial government news release supporting the Northwest Territories Power Corporation's decision to submit a proposal.

"It is important that every opportunity to reduce the cost of living and the costs to local businesses in Hay River is pursued," said Premier Bob McLeod in the release. "The GNWT believes the RFP process initiated by the Town of Hay River could potentially lead to lower electricity rates, and therefore supports NTPC's participation."

Michael Miltenberger, the minister responsible for the Northwest Territories Power Corporation, stated that if the corporation was successful in their bid, "there would be no material impacts with respect to the fiscal position of the Government of the Northwest Territories."

Northland Utilities will be addressing a committee of MLAs in the territorial legislature on Thursday, May 27.

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